December 12, 2021 | Sunday Worship

Shadow and Light: Advent 2021

Advent Week 3: Waiting in Shadow, Holding the Light

**************

 

Prelude—In the Bleak Midwinter,(played on piano by Marcy Hostetler)

Welcome—

Lighting the Advent Candle—This is the 3rd Sunday in Advent, and our theme is around Shadow and Light. Today we are going to be spending some time reflecting on St Lucia (Lu shah), also known as St. Lucia (Lu see a) or St Lucy. Tomorrow, Dec 13, many Christian communities around the world will be celebrating her feast day. You can find many stories detailing her life. She was born into a wealthy family, but she rejected the comfortable life that her parents planned for her. Instead, she wanted to give her riches to the poor, and for that she was punished and eventually martyred. One legend shares that she was known to bring food and aid to Christians who were hiding in the catacombs. As she entered the darkness of these underground tombs, she wore a wreath on her head with candles on top to light her way, so that she could carry more food to those who were hungry and in hiding. May we remember St Lucia, entering the darkness.

Call to Worship—

Leader: Some of us enter the darkness in obedience, longing to bring your light to those who are hurting. 

People:Some of us find ourselves in dark places that we have not chosen, and we long to see light. 

What happens when we are willing to stay in the darkness?

God, give us new ways of understanding when our eyes no longer see.

Jesus, you were born into this world in a dark cave,
And darkness is the space between death and resurrection.

God, give us courage in dark places and help us find our way.

Gathering Hymn— See Whose Glory Fills the Skies, VT #274

Children’s Time Invitation—Come and see, HWB #20

Children’s Time— Pam Brubaker,(In-person & Zoom only)

Offering— Part of the legend of St Lucia says that she endured torture because of her refusal to marry a pagan, wanting instead to devote her life to God and to help those who needs were greater than hers. As a result of this torture, she became blind. The name Lucia shares its roots with the Latin word “lux” meaning light, and she is considered the patron saint of light, and yet she was blind and was known for entering the darkest places. St Lucia is a holder of both shadow and light and the spaces between.

Offering Prayer

Guide us God, when we find ourselves in dark places, come meet us there and teach us to see you in new ways. When you call us to be light bearers, give us courage and strength to enter the darkest spaces. We pray these things in the name of the one who meets us in shadow and meets us in light. Amen. 

Offertory— O Come, O Come Emmanuel, (played on piano by Marcy Hostetler)

Song— Hope is a Candle, VT #211

Scripture— Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’

And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Sermon— “The Light of Discomfort”, John-Michael Cotignola-Pickens

   Our Advent theme, Shadow and Light, got me thinking this week. I usually equate “shadows” with darkness, which has often represented discomfort and feelings of despair. Hollywood has done a good job with instilling that assumption in us. How many characters can you identify as villains just due to the fact that they wear dark clothing and have deep voices, which are usually accompanied by distinguished British accents. I instantly think of Darth Vader for any of you that are Star Wars fans and the villains from the Guardians of the Galaxy films, and the list can go on and on. That assumption got flipped on its head this week while I was preparing for this sermon. Heather reminded me that darkness is sometimes associated with the womb, the first space that we are being nurtured and growing in. The darkness that comes with shadows is comfortable, for most. I think of my bedroom and how I like it to be dark and absent of light while trying to fall asleep. It’s warm and inviting. Light on the other hand would keep me awake and would make me feel disoriented. I’m reminded of one of my favorite things in life that usually happens during this time of year. I daydream of laying on one of our couches covered by a comfortable blanket with just the glow of Christmas tree lights cuddled up by my four pets, two dogs and two cats. The darkness in those moments I imagine resembles being inside a cave. There have been numerous times during these past couple of years that I wish I could hibernate in the safety of the darkness of a cave. Moments such as contracting COVID twice, losing a job I loved, and escaping from the stress of our current political and social unrest. There has been so much pain experienced during this pandemic, so much that necessitates us to stop, rest and dwell in the comfort of the shadows. I was reminded of this during my drive to church this morning while listening to the “On Being” interview with British author, Katherine May. She talked about how the pandemic has forced her to stop, slow down and rest and how subversive and radical that is. If you’re on Twitter then I encourage you to follow the “Nap Ministry” page. She also talks about how subversive it is to rest, to take vacation days and how easy it is to get burnt out by just working 40 hours a week. We need to remember to rest.  The darkness that comes with shadows is protective. The protection found in the darkness and shadows can be found in the stories about St. Lucia (St. Lucy) that we’re focusing on this morning. St. Lucia is believed to have given the dowry that was given to her family by the man she was promised to, to the poor. The story goes that she would wear a crown of candles as she went into the catacombs to give aid to early Christians as they were hiding from the Roman Empire, who would certainly have arrested, tortured and potentially killed them. Safety was found in the shadows.

            But we cannot stay in the darkness and the shadows. We are not mushrooms or moles, which thrive in the darkness. We need light to survive, which can be risky. Light would have exposed the early Christians that St. Lucia provided aid to the Roman Empire, which would have captured them. Light can be disorienting, startling and uncomfortable, but ever so necessary. Our scripture this morning highlights that discomfort. John the Baptist, who fits the profile of a prophet in Scripture, which consists of someone who is seen as wearing or doing something out of the ordinary, calls out the religious leaders and other Jews for their hypocrisy. John the Baptist, who’s described as coming out of the desert wearing camel skins and eating locusts, rips open the curtains and sheds light on the hypocrisy of the faith leaders of his time. He calls them a brood of vipers, which I can only imagine is quite the insult. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable of a scene it was. Such truth telling made John the Baptist quite the popular guy, and not in a good way. The U.S. has been experiencing such a reckoning, the curtains have been ripped away on us, which has brought to light systemic injustices that have been present since before this nation’s inception. We continue to learn how racism is as much a part of our DNA as a nation as apple pie is. Systemic racism continues to fuel police brutality, housing inequities, economic injustice, higher poverty rates among people of color, and environmental racism, which is what took place in Flint, Michigan, a city made up mostly of people of color. The pandemic has also brought to light how unlivable working a minimum wage job is. The “Great Resignation” is giving voice to so many workers who have been used and abused by the corporations they work for. The light has also shown bright on Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster and has shown us areas of growth and change. The Dismantling Racism Committee formed soon after the murder of George Floyd and we proposed the church go through an anti-racism assessment process with Drew Hart and Heather Cotignola-Pickens. We as a committee knew that the results would be uncomfortable to hear, but we believed that if we are to live out our values as a congregation then we needed to find out where we’re falling short. You will have a chance to view the report Drew and Heather wrote, but I want to just give a couple of highlights from it. A survey from Drew and Heather was sent out to the entire congregation to complete and 129 people completed it, which is a great number. It was eye opening to many of us on the committee that the survey results showed that 72% of the respondents described racism as, “negative bias, prejudice, interpersonal actions, behaviors, thoughts based on race”, whereas 23% described racism as “systemic racialized oppression, power plus racial prejudice”. It seems a majority view racism as interpersonal rather than systemic, whereas the exact opposite seems to be true, that racism is systemic that bleeds into the interpersonal. Another quote from the report, “CMCL currently is prioritizing its own comfort and identity over pursuing racial justice”. I know that these are not easy things to hear, but so important. We so often say, “You are known and loved by God”. For us as a congregation to more faithfully live that out then we must be willing to cut out the bad fruit that is growing within us. I tell you all of this for you to not feel guilty but to realize that we have areas of growth when it comes to racial justice. We are on this journey together. I am on this journey with you. You will be hearing more from the Dismantling Racism Committee and Reparations Subcommittee on how we can grow as a community.

            I have thrown a lot at you. I want to end by remembering what season we’re in, Advent, which is probably my favorite season on the Church calendar. It’s a season where we anticipate and long for the hope and transformation that comes with the birth of Christ. I am hopeful for the transformation that this community will experience in the near future. Drew Hart recently told a group of us that anti-racism work is difficult work, but hopeful work. May we journey towards the birth of Christ while anticipating the changes that will take place within us that will make us more welcoming. And may we take time to sit and rest within the shadows when necessary but realize that it will be necessary to go back into the light. Please receive these words from Jan Richardson.

 A Blessing for Traveling in the Dark

Go slow
if you can.
Slower.
More slowly still.
Friendly dark
or fearsome,
this is no place
to break your neck
by rushing,
by running,
by crashing into
what you cannot see.

Then again,
it is true:
different darks
have different tasks,
and if you
have arrived here unawares,
if you have come
in peril
or in pain,
this might be no place
you should dawdle.

I do not know
what these shadows
ask of you,
what they might hold
that means you good
or ill.
It is not for me
to reckon
whether you should linger
or you should leave.

But this is what
I can ask for you:

That in the darkness
there be a blessing.
That in the shadows
there be a welcome.
That in the night
you be encompassed
by the Love that knows
your name.

Song of Response— Longing for Light, VT #715

Sharing Time— Please email your prayer requests or reflections this morning to leslie@communitymennonite.org. They will be sent out by email by Monday.

Announcements—

Sending Song— Between Darkness and Light, VT #808

Benediction— 

Go in love
For love alone endures.
Go in peace
For it is the gift of God.
Go in courage
For you cannot go where God is not. 

Worship Leader: Pam Brubaker
Sermon: John-Michael Cotignola-Pickens
Song Leader: Beth Graybill
Children’s Time: Pam Brubaker
Prelude & Offertory: Marcy Hostetler
Zoom Host/Audio: Monte Garber/ Rod Houser / Ezra Kauffman